Coincidence at Shiloh and Encourage a Young Writer Day

There are many coincidences for 10 April: the creation of the first Jewish Ghetto in Venice in 1516 and the liberation of Buchenwald in 1945; the establishment of the US Patent system in 1790 and the patenting of the safety pin in 1849; Congress authorizing the increase of the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to nine in 1869 (you are forgiven if you thought the number was in the Constitution–because it isn’t) and the imminent swearing-in of Neil Gorsuch some time this week.  But today we talk about two Civil War generals with notable events on the same day after the same battle–Shiloh–and writers.

On 10 April 1827, Lew Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana. Early in life he loved to write and aspired to martial glory, but missed any chance for battle as a regimental adjutant in the 1st Indiana Infantry. As a practicing lawyer and newsman Wallace rose in the political ranks.  He also founded the Montgomery (Indiana) Guards as a Zouave outfit in the winter of 1859-60, which was rolled into the 11th Indiana Infantry after Lincoln issued his call for volunteers in 1861.

Lew Wallace quickly won promotion as Brigadier General of Volunteers after the brief West Virginia campaign, and was sent west to join US Grant’s command.  He won accolades at Fort Donelson, where he commanded a division.  By April 1862, Lew Wallace, William Sherman, John McClernand, WHL Wallace, Benjamin Prentiss and Stephen Hurlbut were all commanding divisions in the vicinity of Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River when the Confederates under Albert Johnston attacked on Sunday morning, 6 April 1862.

But Lew Wallace was two hours’ march downriver (north), encamped at Crump’s Landing.  Warned by Grant personally to be ready to move (not, as some sources insist, told to move) that morning, Lew Wallace finally received instructions to join Grant’s desperate fight at about 10:00.  He began to move his division on a route that he and Sherman had worked out…but that Grant and his staff knew nothing of.  Badgered by several staff officers for his apparent slowness, Lew Wallace finally put his division on a different route, which took longer, and joined Grant’s army about an hour after the fighting stopped.

During that desperate fight, the division commanded by William Wallace–an Illinois lawyer–was in the thick of the fighting.  William Wallace took command of this division because of the infirmity of Charles Smith, who was dying of sepsis. William Wallace  and his men joined the remnant’s of Prentiss’ division and the fresh units of Hurlbut’s in the defense of the Federal left wing–that later came to be known as the Hornet’s Nest–at about 9:00 on Sunday morning.  For the next hellish hours the Federals withstood at least thirteen Confederate brigade-size assaults. As the day waned, Hurlbut and much of the artillery withdrew out of ammunition, the water and ammo situation with the remnants of the Hornet’s Nest reached a breaking point and both Prentiss and William Wallace ordered withdrawal.  Some made it out, but neither Prentiss himself nor William Wallace were among the escapees.  Prentiss was taken prisoner, and William Wallace was wounded in the head, left for dead.

But William Wallace wasn’t dead, and was left by the Confederates the next day when they retreated.  He lingered until 10 April, when he died in his wife Ann’s arms…on fellow Shiloh division commander Lew Wallace’s 35th birthday.  Charles Smith died fifteen days later in the same mansion.

Lew Wallace would become known as a writer.  In 1880, he published Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, to great popularity then, continuous publication since, translation into nearly all human languages (including Coptic and, as an exercise, Esperanto), six different film treatments, and a TV mini-series in the 20th century.  As a young man Lew Wallace was encouraged in his writing, and as such I also honor him on 10 April on National Encourage a Young Writer Day.

Now, no one seems clear on when or where this national day started, but if I were to declare that it’s because it’s also Lew Wallace’s birthday, who would dispute it?

Well, agree or not, there’s lots more about the Wallaces and Shiloh in The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War.


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